When metal was having another of its golden ages, like the one we’re having these days, it spawned so many new bands that even some of the more important among them have been somewhat forgotten by the scene as a whole. In the late 70’s and mid 80’s, metal was doing so many things (doom, thrash, power metal, black metal, and death metal, all of these massive sub-genres were being born) that its hard to keep the threads of history unravelled. It also doesn’t help that the common trajectories of bands, like consistent naming conventions, labels, and styles, were less solidified back then and bands skidded wildly across their own biographical paths, making tracking their progress that much more difficult.
Take Satan for example; not only was the band integral for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal at its outset (they rolled out in 1979) they were also credited with playing a sort of early thrash metal that would influence many bands after them. However, due to several line up changes, name changes, and dormancy periods, it’s safe to say that their name and legend is far less known than other bands. They’ve been releasing new albums under the Satan name for a few years now, finally signing to Metal Blade Records for the latest release, Cruel Magic. And it’s with Cruel Magic that it appears that their fortunes might be their changing and their names might be returning to the mouths and ears of the community. This is, first and foremost, because the album is simply a great iteration on Satan’s style, dragging it kicking and screaming into the modern age like few of their releases have done before.
“Doomsday Clock” might be the best place to start. Listening to that absolutely ferocious riff that opens the track; it’s easy to see how Satan influenced the creation of thrash metal when these riffs were always the staple of their sound. Their heavy metal roots sound true as the riff develops, introducing some more classical elements into their sound. The production does this sound all the favors it can, producing a brittle and effective guitar tone which fuels the breakneck playing. Coupled with the straight-forward but inherently convincing groove section, this makes “Doomsday Clock” a blazingly aggressive track even here, in 2018, when thrash has come and gone and come again. Of course, the formula wouldn’t be complete without the trademark vocals which focus more on robust delivery than the soaring screams that both genres were/are famous for. Don’t get me wrong, they have plenty of epic passages but their focus is more on punch and clarity rather than falsetto peaks of expression.
The other track to listen to would be the following “Legions Hellbound”, perhaps the best track on the album. This track has a decidedly more “heavy metal” to feel it; the main riff is still fast, almost thrash metal sound, but the groove section is focused more on elasticity and dynamics in the form of cymbal work, clever fills, and dynamic roles for the bass. Coupled with the more playful backing guitars and the heart-wrenchingly touching middle section (which reminds us of the progressive rock roots of heavy metal, as names like Wishbone Ash bleed off our tongues in comparison) this makes the track a truly effective and moving track, right before it explodes into the technically complex solo we would express.
There’s something about these two tracks which captures the album’s vibe perfectly, even though there are plenty of other high points on the album. First, the characteristic speed with which Satan play their main riffs, coupled with the classic yet modernly palatable production, creates this air of aggressive attack, even in an age steeped in the art of the growl and the blast-beat. Secondly, their more strictly heavy metal and melodic touches do more than just throwback; they bring the style forward into the present, reminding us why this genre of metal was one of the most popular in its time and one of the engines that first got metal off the ground as a mainstream genre. Satan, with Cruel Magic as with some other of their modern releases, have reached out from the past to grasp us firmly by our throat in the present and give us a good shake.
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Satan’s Cruel Magic was released on the 7th of September, 2018 via Metal Blade Records. You can head on over to the Bandcamp page above to grab it.